Friday, October 19, 2012

Spirit Day

While I'm not part of the official Authors Against Bullying event that's going on today, I still wanted to post something on the subject, because I think it’s an important problem that doesn’t get as much attention as it should.

I'm lucky enough that I was never really bullied in school. Teased, sure. I think most kids are at one point or another. And I was a good candidate for teasing, as I was never part of the popular crowd (nor did I want to be: I had nothing in common with them and many were your typical “mean girls”). I was shy and quiet and awkward, with glasses and a frizzy perm and not the greatest fashion sense (even for the 80s). And I was smart, which is always the kiss of death when you’re a kid. But I was okay with my lot in school, because I had friends and no one bothered me too much.

Except on the bus. I lived close enough to grade school to walk, so middle school was my first experience being bussed to and from school. I was excited at first because it meant no more walking in the snow. Unfortunately, there were a couple of boys on that particular bus that decided I was a perfect target with my introverted demeanor and nerdy appearance. I don’t remember much about what they did, though for the most part I think it was generally verbal taunting more than anything physical. But one incident will always stand out in my mind.

On one particular day in seventh grade, the boys were sitting behind me and the bigger one (it’s always the bigger one, isn’t it?) decided it would be funny to pull my hair. So he leaned over the back of my seat and began to tug out my hair one strand at a time. It hurt, but I tried to ignore him because that’s what they always say to do when someone is bothering you. After a few minutes, however, something in me snapped and I spun around, yelled “stop it!” and smacked him across the face, hard enough to leave a red mark.

It takes a lot to get me really mad. I’m generally an even-tempered sort of person, and even when I do get angry, I tend to bottle it up inside and keep it to myself. I still don’t know what it was about that day that made me snap, but it’s the first and only time I can remember actually hitting someone. I know violence is never the answer, and it’s not something I would ever suggest anyone else use to solve their problems, but in that particular situation I can’t deny it felt pretty damn good.

Until the bus driver stopped and got up to face us. I was all ready to be in trouble, braced for a lecture or punishment. I don’t remember exactly what she said anymore, but she surprised me by not yelling at me. Oh, I think there was some sort of half-hearted “we shouldn’t hit people” in there, but what I remember most is that she essentially told the boy, “You asked for it, dumbass.” Except without the dumbass part. That part was understood.

Those boys never bothered me again.

Okay, so maybe my story isn’t the best example of how to deal with a bully, but for a painfully shy girl who never spoke up for herself, it was a big thing for me. I shocked myself almost as much as I shocked the brat that was tormenting me. (I probably shouldn’t still feel glee at that memory, but I’m only human.) If there’s any moral to my story it’s that once I finally stood up to the bully, he left me alone. Not so much because I hurt him: I was way too weak for my little slap to do more than sting for a second. Maybe I embarrassed him, or maybe I let him know that I wasn’t going to put up with his treatment of me any longer. Maybe he stopped because the bus driver was watching him more closely from then on. Whatever the reason, he stopped and I didn’t dread those bus rides any longer.

By the time high school rolled around, my family had moved to Florida, I got contacts, dumped the perm and was lucky enough that the 90s didn’t have much in the way of fashion. Concert t-shirts, jeans and flannel shirts were all you needed to be stylin’ back then. No one on my high school bus bothered me and the only people that teased me were my fellow band geek friends. All in all, I was pretty lucky.

For a post with a much better moral than mine, go check out Rachel Caine's about the role innocent bystanders play in bullying that I think makes an important point.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Kitchen is done!

As mentioned in the last blog post I wrote, my spare time lately has been filled with a big kitchen reno my family has been doing. Interior design is a hobby of mine, so I had a lot of fun with this. Once upon a time, I considered trying to become a pro designer, even started an at-home course for it, but eventually realized that I only really enjoy interior design when I’m doing my own interior, to my own taste. :) So hobby it is.

After months of work (mostly on weekends, so it’s been stretched out), we have DIYed ourselves a pretty nice-looking kitchen for about 1/10 the cost of those renos you see on HGTV all the time. In other words, instead of spending $30,000 – $50,000, we did everything for between $3000-$4000. Not too shabby. Granted, we saved a big chunk of money by not getting new appliances, but our current appliances work just fine. I love HGTV, but after a while it gets tiring to watch show after show talking about how every kitchen HAS TO HAVE granite counters and stainless steel appliances. Sorry, but that’s just silly. Your kitchen can look nice without them. Sure stainless would look nice with what we’ve done, but it’s not worth the added expense just to be more matchy.

Some before-and-after shots, because photography is another hobby and I couldn’t resist snapping a lot of photos. (click each for a bigger view)


For those interested, here’s what we did:

New paint on the walls and ceiling. (After scraping off the horrific popcorn. I’m not sure we’ll ever attempt THAT again.) That alone made a big difference, given the dark green we used to have on the walls. Replacing the florescent light fixture wasn’t an option, since it was recessed into the ceiling, so we tweaked it a little by adding moulding around the edges and recessing the plastic light panels some. An inexpensive change, but it looks a lot nicer and makes the ceiling feel a little taller somehow. This is a closer view of it:

Cabinets: The biggest project. We couldn’t afford to replace them, so we refaced them instead. First, we removed the row of uppers over the sink to open the room a little more and clear the view into the living room. We have so many cabinets, we were able to rearrange all our junk into the others with no problem. (We have 39 cabinets total, and that’s after removing the 8 uppers.) The next step was getting rid of those awful wood strips/handles. They were attached with screws and a little glue, so not too hard to get off, but we had to replace them with something because without them, not all the doors covered the entire opening of the cabinets behind them. So we went to Home Depot and found some strips of wood that were nearly the perfect height/depth to match up, cut the lengths to size and screwed them in. There’s a slight line where they meet, but it’s not very obvious unless you look for it, and it was a hell of a lot cheaper than new custom cabinet doors would have been! After that, we primed everything (the doors aren’t wood, but a laminate-covered board), then painted them a dark brown. We’ll probably end up getting some kind of sealer to paint over it though, because we’ve noticed even with the super-sticky primer, the paint chips and scratches pretty easily. New hardware completed the updated look, and the whole thing cost just under $200!

Counters: This was the biggest expense. There isn’t really anything you can do to a laminate counter to make it look better other than replace it. Granite and Quartz are nice, but too pricey, so we found a good sale at Lowe’s on a Formica Solid Surface counter that would update the room without breaking the bank. It’s a nice stone feel, with much less upkeep than granite (no sealing, and if you scratch it, it can be sanded down like new). It looks pretty sharp with the dark cabinets. We chose the Crema Terrazzo color. Here is a closer image of it:

We didn’t have a backsplash before, and it was something I really wanted, so we spent some time comparing what was available. We finally decided on a mosaic pattern we liked and headed off to Home Depot to buy it, but once we got there with our paint swatch from the cabinets and compared the two, it turned out the colors didn’t go together as well as we expected. Luckily, there was another mosaic in stock that ended up being a perfect match. Not only did the browns go well, but there were little stainless steel tiles mixed in that matched nicely to our new cabinet hardware. Here’s a link to the pattern.

Our old kitchen floor was a gray ceramic tile that, at the time the house was built, was probably a premium add-on. It was nice, but over time we’ve gotten pretty sick of it. For one, it’s so hard (I think the builders glued it right to the concrete subfloor rather than lay any kind of barrier underneath to cushion it) that anything you drop shatters on impact. And for another, due to that lack of barrier, as the house has settled over the years, cracks have started to form in it. Between that and general chipping from use, it was looking pretty crappy. Also, gray wasn’t going to go with our new color scheme, so a new floor was needed. Problem was, we didn’t want more hard tile (or the work that would go into removing the current tile), so we found a different kind of flooring at a local surplus store that works really well with our new design. It’s essentially a laminate wood – the kind where the planks lock together and float over a thin foam under… thing. But instead of a wood face, it was designed to look like tiles. You can’t really tell it’s not tile until you walk on it. The real test will be the next time we drop something. By getting this kind of floor, we were able to install it right on top of the tile. Much less work, and with no grouting to deal with, it’ll probably be easier to clean.

So that’s our new kitchen. Now that the work is done, maybe I can get back to editing that damn book…

Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

A year ago this week, I published DESTINED. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already!

Technically, August 24 was the official Amazon publish date, but I didn’t “go public” with the book until a few days later. I wanted my mother to be the first to see it, as a birthday gift, so August 29th was when I finally came out to the world as a self-published author. Admittedly, I planned to have more books published by now, but the process takes some time, and my next book needs a lot of editing and polishing before it’s ready to go out in the world. And while I’d love to say that day is near, it will probably be at least a few months (possibly more) before I publish again. My goal is to have the next book available in time for the holiday season. Here’s hoping I make it.

My excuse for being so behind is pretty much this: I’m slow. I’m a perfectionist, which slows me down even in the best of situations, but I’m also a procrastinator and easily distracted. These last few months, there have been outside distractions keeping me from finishing my edits, and the book has more or less been collecting dust while I tended to them. I’ve gotten things settled so that there’s really only one major distraction left, and one that should only keep me occupied on the weekends. But it’s a big one.

We’re renovating our kitchen. It’s a lot of fun, and long overdue, but it’s time-consuming and a lot of work. I’d say we’re nearly halfway done at this point. We’ve taken down some upper cabinets that were blocking the view and closing off the space, scraped the awful 1980s popcorn off the ceiling and repainted the walls. The new countertop is ordered (they’re coming to measure for it later today) and we’ve got a basic plan in place for sprucing up the dated cabinet doors. We have too many cabinets to replace them completely given our small budget, be we’re going to do a little refacing to make them more modern, then paint them and add hardware.

Here is the “before” shot. Pardon the mess. (Click to see a bigger version)

As you can see, we have a very 80s/early 90s kitchen design right now. At the time, it was a great thing: our house was built as a model home, with all the fancy upgrades. These European-style cabinets were all the rage then, as well as the mauve carpet that we’ve slowly replaced with wood floors (or newer, not-mauve carpet). The entire house was done in mauve and gray, something I loved at the time because I was a teenage girl and pink was pretty. As we revamp room by room, it’s slowly changing to a more neutral (okay, brown) color scheme. For all we know, in 10 years people will look at at it and go “wow, this house is so 2010s.” But for now, we like it.

This is a before/after of our formal living room, which we redecorated a few years back. Click for bigger, or go here for another view of the finished design.

I also redid my bathroom, bedroom and walk-in closet, but photos of that don’t’ show the results as well. I love interior design. There was a time I thought about trying to do it professionally, but I eventually realized that I only truly enjoy it when I’m designing something to my own taste. I’m not sure I’d be able to design other people’s spaces; not unless they liked the exact same things I like. As it is, I have a hard enough time convincing the rest of my family to do what I want. ;)

Anyway, that’s my explanation for being so absent lately, and for not having the next book out as soon as I’d promised. And now that this blog post is done, I’m going to go do some of that editing I’ve been talking about!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This is why we can’t have nice things

Photo credit: Stewart via Flickr Creative Commons
There’s been a bit of craziness going on this week in the world of writers and book bloggers, and the fallout makes me sad. As usual, a few people behave badly and it ruins things for the rest of us. It’s frustrating, but I can’t be too angry about it because the reactions are, in my opinion, completely justified.

For those who haven’t been following it, there’s been a lot of drama over on GoodReads the last week or so regarding authors, reviews and book bloggers. I love GoodReads, and have always enjoyed the community there, but this is the Internet, after all. Drama was bound to happen one way or another. It’s the nature of the beast.

This particular drama stemmed from reviewers being attacked by authors who couldn’t handle critical reviews of their books. Many of these authors were indies, or self-published, but some were traditionally published as well. It blew up, as things online tend to do, and people started to “bully” these authors, which blew up even more as everything got completely out of hand and another group of people formed with the aim to stop these “bullies,” and by doing so basically became bullies themselves. (Here’s an article that explains it better than I can: As a result, many book bloggers have decided to change their policies and no longer accept review requests from self-published authors, in an effort to protect themselves from future crazies.

As a self-published author myself, this is sad news. However, given the impetus for the policy changes, I can’t really fault them. Too many authors lately have been acting like children: attacking bloggers for giving honest reviews, pouting when they don’t review their books immediately, threatening to find their personal information and expose them. Grown-ups should not behave this way. Not only is it unprofessional, but that is not how you treat another human being. The Internet has stripped away our manners. People feel like they can say and do whatever they want online because they’re not faced with the people they’re talking to. Well, those are still people, and your mother raised you better than that. Don’t even get me started on how people behave when discussing politics. I may completely avoid the Internet in September and October!

But this post isn’t about politics. It’s about authors and book bloggers and how recent events have changed that dynamic.

I love book bloggers. Without them, I would have very few sales outside of my family and friends. And while I love that those family and friends enjoyed my book and posted good reviews about it, it’s the impartial reviews from bloggers and other readers that helps sell a book, even if those reviews aren’t all 5 stars. So I’m grateful to the critical reviewers just as much as to those who loved the book and gave it heaps of praise. (I still prefer the praise, of course. Who wouldn’t?) Having those less-than-glowing reviews help give my book credibility. As a reader, if I see a book with only a few reviews, and all of them 4 or 5 stars, my first instinct is to write it off because they’re probably all written by the author’s friends. So when I got my first 3-star review, I was actually kind of excited. I even have a couple of 2-stars now, though no 1-stars yet (knock on wood). As long as my overall rating is good, I feel like the variety of reviews gives my book a legitimacy that will hopefully attract more readers. The more reviews and exposure I get, the better, and book bloggers are essential for that because I’m terrible at promoting myself.

However, I don’t feel that book bloggers are my personal marketing tools, or that they have any obligation to me as the writer of a book they’ve been given to review. Book bloggers have lives outside of their blog. They have jobs and families like the rest of us, and can’t always read 24 hours a day. I can’t even imagine the sheer number of review requests some of them get, or the size of their TBR piles. Hell, my TBR pile is huge, and those are only the books that I bought or checked out from the library to read for fun. Imagine having that on top of piles of books you’ve been sent to read by publishers and authors. I read pretty fast (I’ve already read 65 books this year), and I think I would be overwhelmed with all of that staring me down day after day. Then to have to write a thoughtful, informative and entertaining review for each one? I wouldn’t be able to do it. And because I know I couldn’t do it, I have immense respect for those who do. Which is why I would never, in a million years, attack them for sharing their opinion or whine at them for not reviewing my book fast enough (or at all) after sending them a copy. I’ve sent out a lot of review requests in the months (nearly a year now!) since I released DESTINED, and while most bloggers were interested enough to ask for the ePub or Kindle file, not all have gotten around to reviewing it. I’m all right with that. I understood at the time I sent the requests that they have long lists of books to read, and that mine would most likely end up at the bottom of said list. My being self-published probably doesn’t help bump me up either, but again, I accept that. I’m happy they were interested enough to say yes, and that’s enough for me. If they ever get time to read it and decide to write a review, that’s icing on the cake. It doesn’t cost me anything to send that ePub or Kindle file, after all. And if they read it and don’t like it, and therefore decide against writing a review, I accept that as well. Most bloggers are very clear in their review policy that they may not review every book they read, or read every book they are given. Why is this concept so hard to grasp?

I will NEVER comment to a review on GoodReads or Amazon or any other book review site, good or bad. I will comment to a blogged review if it’s one I personally requested only to say thank you, unless the blogger or another commenter asks a specific question of me. If a reviewer mentions something in a review that I disagree with, I will keep it to myself. I’ve had reviewers—not bloggers, just general reader reviews— get character names wrong, mention things that didn’t actually happen (or question things that did happen, but that they seem to have missed), or criticize particular choices I made in the plot or pacing. Sometimes I agree with these criticisms, while other times I admit there is a temptation to reply and defend myself, especially if a critical point is based on something the reader missed or misunderstood. But I won’t do that because I don’t believe it’s my place to reply to reviews in that manner. GoodReads and other review sites are there for readers to share their opinions, not for authors to soothe their egos. If you’re going to be an author, you have to develop a thick skin about reviews. Not everyone is going to love your baby, no matter how amazing you think it is. Just like there will always be people who love something that others think is pure crap. That’s the great thing about books: there’s something out there for everyone.

So while I’m disappointed that there will be fewer book bloggers out there willing to read my next release (if I ever finish editing the damn thing), I don’t blame them for needing to change their policies. Self-publishing is a wonderful thing, but it’s a double-edged sword. It’s fabulous because anyone can publish a book, but at the same time… anyone can publish a book. Not everyone that publishes is ready for what comes next. Once you hit that “publish” button and send your book out into the world, you also give up control over what happens to it. You’ve done your part, now it’s time for readers to do theirs: read it and, if so moved, discuss it with other readers. Take any criticism that comes along (silently) and use it to make your next book better. That’s what I’m doing. All I can do now is hope that, by the time I release my next book, some of this drama has died down and bloggers will be more open to accepting self-published books again.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A short Titanic Tuesday post

I know, it's been forever since I've blogged. It's no secret I'm not very good at keeping up with this, so I apologize again.

Last weekend, we took a short vacation to visit some family up in the Blue Ridge mountains, and along the way made a stop to see the traveling Titanic Exhibit. This is probably the 4th or 5th time I’ve been to one of them, but it never gets old for me, even though I’m no longer using the excuse of book research to attend them. The exhibitions are always changing around the artifacts, so every time there’s something new on display. This one was a little smaller than others I’ve seen, but still interesting. Unlike some I’ve been to, there was no tour guide, so you wandered the exhibit rooms at your own speed.

The reason I’m writing about it is because at the end, I had a moment of life imitating art that I had to share. Those of you who have read Destined will get the significance. When you enter the exhibit,  you are given a “boarding pass” with information about a passenger that sailed on the Titanic. At the end, you can match your name up with the list of survivors & victims to find out if your person lived. A little morbid, but it’s a nice way to make the exhibit more interactive and personal, because you can’t help to want to root for your passenger to survive. My family got all First Class passengers (boarding at Cherbourg), so we were hopeful. My passenger was Leila Meyer, who was traveling to New York with her husband, banker Edgar Meyer, to attend the funeral of her father, Andrew Saks. Yes, that Saks: founder of Saks Department Stores. Despite that claim to fame, I hadn’t heard of her before this, so I didn’t know what her fate would be. I also didn’t know the other two passengers we were given, Helen Ostby and Emil Brandeis. If only our passengers were in Second Class, I might have known them better!

Leila Meyer survived, but her husband did not. Their two-year-old daughter had not been traveling with them, so she was safe at home. Between the inheritance from Leila’s father’s estate ($100,000 plus) and nearly twice that from her husband’s, she was pretty much set financially. She remarried and died at the age of 71, never speaking publicly about the disaster.

Helen Ostby was traveling with her father on a research trip for his jewelry business. They’d been in Europe and North Africa, and were returning home to Rhode Island. She survived and spoke later about the voyage, recalling the luxury of the ship and lack of panic as everyone went up on deck after striking the iceberg. They all went up on deck to the boats right away, but her father returned to his cabin to get warmer clothes. Helen never saw him again. Also of interest is her account of the sinking, which made no mention of the ship breaking in two:

There had been no panic. But at the very end, we could see and hear that the people on board were realizing there was no place to go. As the ship began to stand on end, we heard a big rumbling, rattling noise as if everything was being torn from its moorings inside the ship. All of a sudden that stopped, and she stood on end very quietly for a minute, then went down like an arrow.

We thought that, being a First Class passenger, Emil Brandeis had a better chance at survival, but unfortunately, he did not make it. Brandeis was the son of Jonas Brandeis, founder of the Brandeis Department Store, and was returning home early from a vacation to visit family in Europe. There is no mention of why he changed his plans: perhaps in order to sail on the famous new luxury liner?

As we were studying the list, I overheard a couple next to us talking to one of the exhibit employees. He was stationed there to answer questions and help people find their passengers, and had just asked them if they were having trouble with theirs. I couldn’t resist eavesdropping, partly to see if I would recognize the names, and partly to check up on the employee’s knowledge. One had a member of the Allison family, and he immediately launched into the story of how nearly the entire family perished because they stayed on board to search for their infant son, Trevor, unaware that their nurse, Alice Cleaver, had already gotten him onto a lifeboat. It’s one of the sadder stories in First Class, as their young daughter, Loraine, was the only child in First or Second Class that was not saved. I have to give the exhibit employee credit for knowing his stuff, but what caught my attention most was the passenger in question. For those who have read Destined, you might recognize that the Allison family was used there as well, in a very similar situation to mine. It was a little creepy, to be honest. Of all the passengers those people could have had, what were the chances they’d have one of the Allisons?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The last Paris blog, I promise!

Not that it’s any surprise (to me, at least), but it took me more blogs than intended to cover my week in Paris. Between my tendency towards long-windedness and the number of photographs I took, cramming it all into one or two posts would have been too much. So thank you for sticking with me, and I promise this one is it! After this it will be back to the usual (and probably infrequent, because I’m terrible at blogging regularly) book/writing posts.

The last two days of my trip were relatively uneventful. The weather took a nasty, cold turn, which kept me indoors more and made it hard to get decent photos. The first of the last days (Tuesday), was not only cold (in the 40s) but rainy and windy. A triple threat of unpleasantness, let me tell you. Because of that, the majority of my Tuesday was spent—I’m almost ashamed to admit this—in a mall. A Paris mall, but still a mall. I did get a little tourism in there before and after the mall, though.

First order of the day, however, was a little sleeping in. I had to get up early the day before for my Giverny excursion, so I treated myself to a little laziness, knowing the forecast wasn’t good, and slept until around 10am or so. Then I puttered around, taking my time getting ready and out the door. Finally, I was out and on my way to the Saint Denis Basilica, a big old church on the northern edge of the city. Actually, it might even be in a suburb, but it’s close enough to be on the main metro line, and was easy to get to. Unfortunately, it was still cold and windy outside, so I hurried to the church from the stop rather than linger at one of the big street markets set up nearby.

I just realized I never posted a photo of my apartment. The bed is over by the TV in the back. Excuse the mess. I was in the middle of packing to go home when I took this. :) There are better photos on their AirBnB page.

The Basilique de Saint Denis

Despite this being my third trip to Paris, and despite all the reading and research I did to prepare for the second trip, I had never heard of this church before. What makes it so interesting (because Paris has a metric ton of churches, and after a while they all start to blur together) is that this particular church holds the tombs of nearly every French king all the way back to around the 7th or 8th century. Including, to my surprise, the tombs of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Though it's not really their entire bodies there, but a few remains that were dug up in 1815 and moved there. According to Wikipedia, they were originally buried in a mass grave in the Madeline churchyard, so there's no telling if what was moved to Saint Denis was really their remains or now. Their tombs are in a darker section of the church, with very low lighting, so I was unable to get a photograph without using flash. For all I knew, flash photography was allowed, but I don't like to use the flash in churches, so I refrained. The rest of the tombs were better lit, but still dark enough that most of my photos were blurry. I did mange one decent one, with my camera phone of all things.

The photo below is how most of the tombs looked: multiple bodies grouped together under one slab, with statues on top. Each grouping was labeled with the names and dates of whoever was there, in addition to some extra information in French about their rule. The grouping below was of particular interest to me because some of the tombs belong to my own ancestors. One branch of my family tree can be traced back to Charlemagne, and within that branch are a bunch of European rulers: some from England, some from Scotland, one from Italy, and a couple from France. I went to Saint Denis hoping that they might be there, and they were! In this group of tombs is Robert II (972-1031), his wife Constance (986-1032) and their son Henry I (1008-1060). Another of my ancestors, Charlemagne's father, Pepin le Bref (the Short) is also there, but I didn't get a good photo of his tomb. Supposedly he's the one who built the original church that sat where Saint Denis is today. Also, Robert II's father, Hugh Capet, is supposed to be at Saint Denis, but I don't remember seeing his tomb anywhere. There were so many, it's very possible I missed it.

I spent a good amount of time in the church, partly because I was reading every name to look for ancestors, and partly because I knew it was nasty outside and was avoiding going back out into it. But eventually I had to, and found it had rained while I was inside. It was still misting a bit, and even colder and windier than before, so I hurried off to the metro station, pausing once when a Japanese couple stopped me to ask for directions to Sacre Coeur. Poor things, they were seriously lost, but I was able to tell them what metro station to go to, and I think they understood me well enough.

It was at this point I decided I needed to find something indoors to do. I still hadn’t gotten any souvenir shopping done, so I headed for Forum des Halles, an underground shopping mall that sounded promising.  It was huge, and busy, but most importantly, the stores were heated. Ahhh, heat. I struck out on the shopping front, sadly, even though the stores were more in my budget. I just couldn’t find anything I liked, which became a trend during my week there, and I ended up coming home mostly empty-handed. It made packing easier, but I felt like a shopping failure. A week in Paris, one of the world’s shopping capitals, and I couldn’t find anything to buy! What a shame.

The only other thing I did that day (I spent quite a few hours in Les Halles) was metro over to the Pantheon, another big old stone church I’d never gotten around to visiting before. It’s not used as a church today, but rather as a really huge mausoleum. Rather than royalty, the French citizens buried here are regular, but famous, citizens. Some of the more widely-known are Marie & Peter Curie, Louis Braille, Voltaire and Victor Hugo. Like Saint Denis, their tombs were in dark places not easily photographed without a flash, so I only have very blurry pictures.

The Pantheon

Foucault's Pendulum, in the main area of the Pantheon. They were renovating inside, so it was hard to avoid the construction stuff.

Unlike Les Halles, the Pantheon was not heated. It was pretty cold and drafty inside, so I didn’t linger too long. I wanted to go to a restaurant for dinner, but my plans were once again foiled, this time by lack of wifi with which to look up where to go. Frustrated, I gave up and went back to my apartment to warm up, stopping by a supermarket along the way to get something to cook. I ended up with bread and soup for my meal, but the soup was hot and yummy, and I didn’t burn down the apartment with the hot plate, so I considered it a successful dinner. Actually, I did try to go to a restaurant that night. There was a highly-reviewed place just a block from my apartment that I’d never noticed before, and their website claimed they served dinner starting at 6:30, but when I went over there (at 6:30), they were closed and even though I could see shadows inside (the windows were heavily tinted), my presence outside was either unnoticed or ignored, because no one ever came to open up. It was too cold to hang around on the street, so after waiting five minutes or so, I gave up and went to the supermarket instead.

On my last day in Paris, I did nothing but try to shop. Try being the key word there. I went over to the Louvre area again after reading that there are a lot of souvenir places along the Rue de Rivoli, and walked down the street for a while. Unfortunately, the souvenirs shops there sell the exact same crap as the ones in Montmartre, so I had already seen it all. No luck there. I popped by the Palais Royal to sit for a little while. There was a café near there I wanted to visit for lunch, but I changed my mind when I saw how many people were smoking outside (and it was still cold). I probably could have eaten indoors, but I wasn’t that hungry yet, so I wandered some more, ended up back at the Louvre, and went down into the Carrousel du Louvre shopping center, which is adjacent to the Louvre, underneath the Arc du Carrousel. Sadly, this was another designer mall with prices out of my budget, but it was warm and had a food court. I had my worst meal here, incidentally. Really nasty, half-cold lasagna for €9. I should have gone back to the café.

I had time for one last shopping trip, and after a little research, found that the area not far from my apartment, République, was supposed to have a lot of stores. So I headed that way, wandered around, finally found something for a couple of people (but not nearly everyone I wanted to get souvenirs for), and called it a night. I had to get back to the apartment and start packing.

For the most part, I saw everything I wanted to see on this trip. I never got to the Chateau du Vincennes, or took an excursion to Fontainebleau, but I need something to do the next time, right? Oh, there was one other place I managed to visit:

5 Rue des Pyramides

So what building is that? Well, according to the Contract Ticket List, 5 Rue des Pyramides in Paris, France is the address Henriette Yrois listed as her last place of residence before boarding the Titanic. I have no idea which apartment would have been hers, or if it was even any of those windows, but that’s the general building at #5. One of those may have been her home. When I knew I was going to Paris, I couldn’t resist tracking down her apartment.

If you’d like to see more of my pictures, you can look at them all at my Flickr Paris album. I didn’t post every one on the blog, and the first half of that album is from my previous trip, so there are a lot more photos over there.

Thanks for sticking with me while I recount my trip. It really was a fantastic vacation, despite the sometimes crappy weather. The cough I brought home hasn’t quite left me, so that particular souvenir just keeps on giving, but otherwise I’m fully recovered and back to life as usual. And already wondering where I should go next. I’m aiming for Italy next year!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Almost the last of the Paris blogs

I intended to write this last blog up over the long holiday weekend, but laziness prevailed and I instead spent most of the weekend curled up with a book rather than working on the computer. That’s what holidays are for, right?

I wanted to sum up the last half of my week in one blog, but it didn’t work out that way. Too many photos taken on the first day, so I’ll have to keep the last two for another blog. But that one will be the last, I swear.

Monday morning dawned bright and clear, but cold. I wasn’t feeling too great, either, so I was worried how my day was going to go, but the ickiness eventually passed. The forecast had it warming up later (which it did), but initially it was a pretty chilly morning, which messed with my plans a little. This was the day I’d decided to take my one excursion out of the city, to see Monet’s house and gardens in GIverny. Part of that plan was to rent a bike once we arrived in Vernon (the train station closest to Giverny), and ride it to Monet’s house rather than wait for a bus to take me, but it was a little cold for bikes, I still wasn’t feeling completely great yet, and no one else was renting them, so I chickened out and got in the bus line with everyone else. If I have one regret about that day, it’s that I didn’t go ahead and rent the bike anyway, but at the time it seemed like the best thing to do.

My research before making the trip told me that the bus from Vernon to Giverny was 2 euros each way, so I had my coin all ready to hand to the driver. Only when I boarded, he announced the fare was €6.50 instead. I scrabbled to get the right amount, nearly fell on my face as I turned to walk down the aisle (there was a step I hadn’t seen, and I tripped), then staggered back to an empty seat, feeling confused and mildly embarrassed at my clumsiness. I searched the ticket I’d been given to try to see if I’d paid a round-trip fare or one-way, but couldn’t find anything, so I decided I would walk back rather than chance paying another €6.50 to return. Later Internet research told me the €6.50 was round-trip, so I basically wasted half of it by walking back, but the return walk was lovely, so I don’t regret it too much (my feet did, however).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The train ride to Vernon was uneventful—though I almost missed the stop because I didn’t hear the announcement for Vernon—and the bus ride was quick. The line to get into the attraction wasn’t too bad, so my not being able to buy tickets at FNAC in advance didn’t hurt too much. I went to the gardens first, as instructed by online advice, but since I arrived with a busload of people, it was already getting crowded. Still, the gardens were lovely, and kept nearly identical to how Monet had them when he lived there (and painted them).

(Many of his paintings from Giverny can be seen here: Yes, it's a poster site, but it's one of the larger groupings of his art I could find. The Giverny stuff is all mixed in, but it's mostly obvious which is which.)

Since photography is a hobby of mine, and I especially love to photograph flowers, I took a LOT of pictures here. I won’t post them all, but you can find the others on my Flickr page. I’ll put that link when I’m done with these blogs. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Japanese bridge in many of his paintings. I loves the pretty purple wisteria hanging over it. I'm a sucker for anything purple.

Such a pretty, scenic place

There they are, the famous water lilies. Minus the actual lilies. Must have been the wrong time of year for those.

Everything was so vibrant and colorful. It was beautiful.

The house itself

It only took an hour or so to wander the gardens and tour the house. Photos of the interior weren’t allowed, though that didn’t stop people from trying. One woman near me was very boldly aiming her camera phone everywhere and shooting (after checking to see that no employees were around), until she was caught in the last room and reprimanded. I can’t deny I wasn’t a little pleased at that. People like her, who think the rules don’t apply to them, drive me nuts.

Once I had seen everything and circled the garden a couple of times, it was time to leave. It wasn’t even noon yet, so I decided since I had lots of time, I might as well make the trip back to Vernon on foot. The day had turned gorgeous: cool but sunny and very comfortable. I knew people walked it all the time, so I set off for a leisurely stroll to soak in the countryside. It was about 4km, about 2.5 miles, but that didn’t sound too bad.

It was a looooong walk. At one point, when I thought I must be almost there, I passed a sign saying 2.3km left. Not even halfway! Good thing it was such a nice day, and I had lots of time before the next train, because I needed to stop and sit on the benches along the way more than once. My poor feet. But if I hadn’t walked it, I wouldn’t have seen the cute little church where Monet and his family are buried, or any of the other picturesque views along the way.

Such a pretty little country town, and so peaceful

Horse! I love horses, so I was really excited to come across this cutie. He came right up to say hi and then walked alongside me for a bit.

I finally made it back to Vernon, and was able to make a quick detour to see something I'd found online (which is a big reason I decided to walk back): A castle! I have a thing for old castles, and this one is from the 12th century. One of the towers was destroyed by a bomb in WWII, but was recently rebuilt (the whiter one in the front). It sits along the bank of the Seine River, near an old mill, and the whole area is so pretty. I sat down on a picnic bench in front of the castle and soaked it all in for a while before moving on. One thing I learned on my previous trip to Paris: I really love little French country towns. They're just so quaint and peaceful.

Tourelles Castle.

The Old Mill. It used to sit at the end of an ancient bridge (about as old as the castle), but all that's left of that are a few stone pilings.

At this point, I crossed the Seine back into Vernon and set out to find the train station so I could finally have lunch (it was well after 1:00 by then). The signs up until that point had been very clear, so I wasn't worried about finding it, but I must have missed one because once I was across the river, there were no more signs to the station, and I got horribly lost. I don't know how many streets I wandered (at least they were pretty?) before finally spotting a sign to the "gare" (French for train station). I still had some time before the next train, but not as much as I planned, so I ate at the cafe across the street. Another croque monsieur, which was delicious. They always are.

I was back in Paris by about 4pm, and headed to the apartment for the night, needing to put up my sore feet. This was becoming a theme. If I ever go back, I’m going to have to make an effort not to walk so much. I never once got out after dark to see the city lit up. Though part of that was due to the city not even getting dark until after 10pm.

I really wanted to get the rest of my trip into one post, but I should probably stop here and save the last two days. There wasn’t as much on those days, so I should be able to wrap it all up in one last blog. It may take me a few days because I have work on my day job’s website to do tomorrow, but I will get it up by the end of the week, promise!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Paris Days Two & Three

Thank goodness it’s a holiday weekend. I’m still trying to kick this cough and get my sleep patterns back to normal. Maybe if I sleep lots this weekend, I’ll get my internal clock reset.

All right, let’s see if I can get more than one day into this post. My second full day in Paris also happened to be my birthday, one of the reasons I decided to take the trip when I did. All in all, it was a pretty great day. A little colder than the previous day, but bright and sunny. Perfect weather for exploring the city further, which was what I did.

I started out by going to the Ile de la Cité to see the Saint-Chappelle church. On previous trips, I’d always missed fitting it into the itinerary, so I wanted to be sure to get it this time. Also, they say to fully appreciate the stained glass windows, it’s best to visit on a sunny day. Well, it doesn’t get much sunnier than that day, so I set off on my way.

Along the way, I got this nice, sunny shot of the Concergerie, the prison where Marie Antoinette was held before being guillotined. I visited it last time, so didn't go in on this trip.

Since I didn’t buy a Museum Pass (which gets you in free and lets you jump ticket lines), I had to stand in line to get in, but it wasn’t too bad. I waited about 20 minutes, bought my ticket, and was in. And… was kind of disappointed. The area was dark and low-ceilinged (for a Paris church) and the windows were pretty, but nothing spectacular. I wandered around, took some photos (none that came out well enough to post), didn’t see that there was anything else around, and headed back out. Something didn’t feel right about it, but I had a lot of things I wanted to do, and there didn’t seem to be much reason to linger when I’d seen everything there. Well, it turned out I hadn’t seen everything. I was in the lower chapel, and the main part of the church, the part that makes it such a major monument, was the upper chapel. Apparently, there was a narrow, winding staircase off to one side of the lower room, something I hadn’t noticed in the dark. If I had gone up, I would have seen this:

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Yeah. I feel pretty stupid. I was going to try to go back, but the cheap side of me didn’t want to spend another €8.50, and when I did the math, buying a Museum Pass wasn’t going to save me any money, so in the end, I didn’t return. It’ll have to be on the list next time I go, because while I’m not much of a religious person, I love beautiful old churches. This one looks pretty dazzling, too, so I’m bummed I was right there and missed out. They need bigger signs! This was one time I would have benefitted from not going alone: a traveling companion surely would have said “Hey, we need to look around more. There must be something else here!”

I was going to do a walk all around the island, to see the parts I’ve always missed in the past, but my feet were already starting to hurt, so instead I headed for Notre Dame. The last time I was there, it was a rainy day and there was a big, ugly tent out in front for some kind of festival, so my photos weren’t as good as I’d like. I wanted to get better ones, and it was the perfect day for it. So I did. (I posted one already in the previous post.)


I was going to go inside, since last time we went on a Sunday during a church service and it was really packed. But this time, even though it was a Saturday, the lines were pretty crazy. In the end, I figured I’ve already been in there twice, so no reason to kill my feet by standing in line. Maybe later in the trip I’d find myself back there and be able to get in quicker (I didn’t). I had more to see, so I moved on. At the back of the island, behind Notre Dame, there’s a memorial I never knew existed: La Mémorial des Martyrs de La Déportation. It’s a small memorial, built in a former morgue (I didn’t know that until I came home and looked it up), to honor the Jewish citizens who were rounded up and deported to Nazi concentration camps in WWII. Anyone who has read the fabulous Sarah’s Key will be familiar with this. And if you haven’t read it, do. It’s a great book. Anyway, the memorial is a small room with a couple of alcoves and this one long hall (behind bars, so you can’t get closer). According to Wikipedia, those are 200,000 backlit crystals, symbolizing each of the deportees who died in the camps. There’s also supposed to be an eternal flame there, but I don’t remember seeing one (unless it’s at the end of that hall?).

There wasn’t anything else to see or do on the island, since it was too cold to get the famous ice cream I always mean to check out there. I probably should have gotten it anyway, but once again, I thought maybe I’d be back before the end of the week. No such luck. So I crossed to the other bank of the Seine and found a metro that would take me to the Eiffel Tower, my next stop. The one thing I wanted to do on my birthday was have lunch on the grass in front of the tower. I misread my map and got off at the wrong stop, so I ended up walking much further than intended (my poor feet), but eventually got there. And I came upon a great bakery along the way that not only made fantastic sandwiches (the best I had that week), but had an adorable, fuzzy cat lounging in their window to help ease my homesickness for my own kitties.

View of the tower from where I had my lunch.

My next stop was Les Invalides, which houses a massive Army museum and a church with Napoleon’s tomb. It’s one of the places I’d never been, so it was at the top of my “must see” list. Since it’s not too far from the Eiffel Tower, I walked there. As it turns out, the metro stop I used previously was closer to it than the tower, so I would have been better off seeing Invalides first, but my empty stomach was leading me at that time, and it was Eiffel Tower or bust. The church at Les Invalides was beautiful, and for a little man, Napoleon’s tomb was pretty massive.


Despite my aching feet, I made myself see as much of the attached museums as possible, but to be honest, they didn’t really excite me too much. It was a lot of rooms (and I mean a LOT) of armor, weapons and other military clothing. Room after room after room of the same stuff. If you were into military history, you’d love it. I know my grandfather would have probably camped out in there for weeks if he’d been allowed, but for me, it didn’t do much. And my feet were really hurting, so I probably should have skipped it. That’s my cheap side again: I paid €9 to get in, so I was going to get my money’s worth!

I headed “home” a little earlier that day to rest my feet, and despite every intention of going somewhere special for a birthday dinner, I ended up grabbing a crepe and eating in in the Tuileries garden by the Louvre (I went back there with the intention of seeing a museum before calling it a night, but I missed the metro stop I was aiming for and ended up walking from Les Invalides back to the Place de la Concorde, and by the time I got there, I was too tired and sore to walk any more. So, on my birthday, in Paris, I called it a night at about 5pm. Pathetic, I know.

The next day was light on sight-seeing. At this point, I was planning to get the Museum Pass later in the trip, so I was saving all of the museums and monuments that were on it for later. Also, it was a pretty cold day. Sunny again, but cold. When I got up, i t was 46 degrees! My first order of business was to go to the train station and buy my train ticket for my excursion the following day to Giverny (Monet’s house and gardens). I’d read it’s better to buy them ahead of time so you don’t get stuck in a long line the day of and miss the train. Good advice, and it had the added advantage of letting me time how long it would take me to get there the next morning.

Whoever says the French are rude hasn’t ever been to Paris, as far as I’m concerned. On two occasions that day, a Parisian saved my butt. First, after buying my train tickets, I headed out of the ticket office to a bench to sit down and organize some things. While I sat there, this man came running out after me, holding out my return tickets, which I’d either dropped or left before the ticket agent could give it to me. One crisis averted. Next, once I had all of my things back in order and was ready to head out, I stood up and immediately the man sitting on the next bench over called out “Madame!” I turned, and he pointed to the ground… where my wallet lay. I’d dropped it and would have walked off without realizing it if it weren’t for him. I’d have been in BIG trouble, because all of my cash, credit cards and driver’s license were in there! The only thing not there was my passport. I had a moment of “what if” panic, thanked him profusely, then stuffed it back in my bag and was on my way. My next stop was supposed to be the FNAC nearby, where I could pre-buy my admission ticket to Giverny, but it was Sunday, and most stores in Paris are closed on Sundays. Drat.

When researching my trip, I kept reading how you had to see a street market at least once, and get the fixings for lunch, then go to a park and eat. Well, one of the major markets, at Rue Mouffetard, was open on Sundays, so I metro-ed over to St. Germain to check it out. It was busy, but I think I was expecting something bigger. Still, I got a sandwich and a basket of (over-priced, but very sweet) strawberries, then walked over to the Jardin des Plantes to eat.

Part of the street market. The cat was so cute. :)

The yummy, but expensive, strawberries

Near my lunch bench in the Jardin des Plantes

Next stop: Montmartre. I wanted to check out the cemetery there, and stop by Sacre Coeur for some sunny-day photos (again, it was gloomy there on past trips). And since it was Mother’s Day, I couldn’t resist e-mailing my mom a picture of the sex shops I was walking past. Because every mother wants to know her daughter’s hanging out in the red light district on Mother’s Day, right? I also e-mailed her a photo of a flower shop, so hopefully that made up for it. Anyway, the only reason to be in the red light district, at least for me, is to see the Moulin Rouge:

I think this is the first time I've seen it during the day.

The cemetery wasn't too far from there, and I spent a good hour or so wandering around. I love cemeteries, and the older the better. There's something about this style of cemetery, with the above-ground crypts, that I especially love. They're so charming and picturesque. Am I weird for thinking that?

I spent more time there than planned because I had a hard time finding some of the famous graves. This was my own fault: I read a tip the night before to be sure to pick up a map at the entrance. But when I walked in, there were no maps I could see other than the giant sign posted (which wasn't portable). Turns out, on my way out, I spotted a little office where a guy was handing out paper maps. D'oh! But there was another big map-sign in the middle of the cemetery, so I was able to use that and my own Paris map book, which had a small map of the grave locations, and eventually found the two famous graves I was looking for: Edward Degas and Alexandre Dumas. After that, I headed for my last major stop, Sacre Coeur.

Sacre Coeur is my favorite of the Paris churches. It's beautiful, for one thing, and so different than the rest thanks to its gleaming white facade. And it stands up on this hill overlooking the entire city that makes you feel like you're on top of the world. It's also very crowded. Knowing to avoid the main stairs (where the crowds and hair-braiding gypsies hang out), I came to it from the side. This had the added advantage of less up-hill walking, which my feet appreciated. I circled the church, took lots of pictures, considered going in, saw the line, changed my mind, then headed down the steps towards the metro that would take me back to my apartment. Along the way, I killed some time in the multitude of souvenir shops lining the Rue des Abbesses, the main road out of Montmartre (and the location of the metro stop). Every store sells the same stuff, and most of it's tacky tourist junk, but it's still interesting to nose around. I hadn't gotten any souvenirs myself yet, but didn't have much luck there. Nor would I have much luck for the rest of the trip, sadly. It's amazing: Paris is probably one of the shopping capitals of the world, I couldn't find anything to buy! I blame my budget for that one.

That's it for now. Later in the weekend I'll try to do the rest. Au revoir!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Paris in the Springtime

Yes, I’m still alive. I apologize for going so long without updating the blog, but I have a good excuse: I was on vacation. In Paris! (Okay, I wasn’t on vacation this whole time, but between decompressing from the craziness of the TItanic centenary and preparing for the trip, then recovering once I was back home, there hasn’t been much time for blogging.)

I’ve been home almost a week now, and finally have some time to get my photos sorted out and my thoughts written down. It took a little longer thanks to the nasty cold I brought home with me, but I’m starting to feel normal again, finally.

Because I can be long-winded, and tend to take a lot of photographs, I’m going to split this travel blog up over a few days. Today’s post will be the first couple of days of the trip, which were also the days I did the most, so it will probably be the longest. I will aim for brevity, but make no promises. “Short” has never been my strong suit in writing.

We’ll start with a random pretty picture of Notre Dame, because Blogger makes the first photo the post’s cover shot, and otherwise my first photo would be a set of keys to the Bastille. Interesting, but not as pretty.

A little background on how this trip came about. I had the hankering to go somewhere this summer, but couldn’t find anyone able to go with me. So rather than stay home I decided I’m a big girl: I can go on vacation by myself. People do it all the time, so why shouldn’t I? Since this would be my first solo vacation, I figured my best bet would be to start with something familiar. That way, if the experience was overwhelming, I’d at least be somewhere I knew, so I wouldn’t feel too lost. Enter Paris. I’ve been there twice before, and am completely in love with it. Going back was a no-brainer. I know my way around, there are still parts of the city I had yet to see, and the more I thought about returning, the more excited I got. I could rent a cute little studio apartment for myself and feel like a Parisian for a week. It would be great!

And it was great. I found that I really enjoyed vacationing by myself. I Skyped home every night to talk to my family, so I never got lonely, and during the days I had the whole city in front of me to do with as I pleased. I could rush through places that didn’t interest me and could linger at others if the mood struck (or if I was getting camera-happy and taking a bazillion pictures), without it bothering anyone. Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoy traveling with other people. It’s nice to have someone else to talk to and share the experience with. But now I know that if I find myself companion-less again, I can travel alone and still enjoy it.

I took an evening flight from Tampa that arrived in Paris around 2:00pm, thinking it would help with jet lag to get in later in the day. I don’t think it did, and by not arriving in the morning like most people do, I ended up losing that whole day for sightseeing. In the future, I think I will go back to arriving in the morning, to maximize my time. As it was, by the time I got to the apartment I’d rented, it was after 4pm. There was some miscommunication between me and the landlord, so it took some extra time to get me and the guy meeting me in the same place, but eventually he found me and we got into the apartment. It was as cute as advertised, and I was excited to get settled in, but it would be another hour before that could happen due to some trouble we had with the TV and Internet. But he was very kind and determined to get everything working, for which I was very grateful, and by 6:00, he was gone and I was finally on my own. While I never had much use for the TV (all the channels were in French), the wifi was essential, so I’m glad he got it working. But at that point, all I had time for was a quick dinner (a crepe, something I’d been craving ever since my last Paris vacation) and some unpacking and relaxing from the long flight.

After a long night of not much sleeping thanks to a combination of jet lag and very stompy upstairs neighbors, my first full day dawned grey and rainy, but in the upper 60s, so not too cold. Given the weather, I started with a museum, the Museé Carnavalet, a free museum about the history of the city. It’s in a big old hotel (the Hotel Carnavalet) in the Marais district of Paris and covers the long history of Paris, from a prehistoric dugout canoe from 4600 BC to the present day. It’s a fascinating museum, one I might have enjoyed even more if I was fluent in French: all of the signs and descriptions were in French only, and while I do understand some of the language, a lot of it was lost on me. I could have gotten an audio guide that would have helped, but by the time I realized it would be useful, I was too far into the maze of rooms to go back.

A lesson to anyone going to Paris that doesn’t speak French: always get the audio guide in museums! Most of them don’t have English descriptions posted.

My favorite part of the museum had to be the section devoted to the French Revolution. That era of French history has always fascinated me, and I wasn’t disappointed here. One of my favorite displays was the room about the Bastille, which included these keys from the prison:

See, not as pretty for a cover image

Once I was finished with the museum, I headed for the Place des Vosges, the oldest “planned square” in Paris (according to Wikipedia). It has a beautiful old Paris look to it, surrounded on all sides by what I consider typical French buildings. It also has the house where Victor Hugo once stayed (back when it was a hotel, I believe), which is another free museum I wanted to check out. It was much smaller, and to be honest, not as interesting to me, but that’s mostly because I haven’t read much Hugo and therefore wasn’t as interested in him. But the square was beautiful and peaceful and it was nice to sit and rest for a little while before moving on with my day.

Place des Vosges

Since I was already halfway there, my next stop was the Place de la Bastille, the site of the Bastille prison. There was a café there I wanted to check out after seeing glowing reviews about the croque monsieurs (ham sandwiches with melted cheese on top. Yummy!), and it was nearing lunch time. It was still gloomy out, but that’s Paris for you sometimes. The sandwich was fantastic, and it was nice to spend a little time sitting at a café and writing in my journal. One of the great things about Paris is that they don’t mind if you linger over a meal, so there’s never any pressure to hurry up and clear the table for the next diner. The only downside to the outdoor cafes? Smoking is banned indoors now, so that’s where all the smokers go. I probably sucked down more secondhand smoke in that one week than I have in the last ten years. All part of the Paris experience, I suppose.

The July Column (Colonne de Juillet) in the Place de la Bastille (the glass building on the right is the new opera house, the Opéra Bastille)

After lunch, I was off and walking again. (This would come back to bite me in the ass – or rather, the feet – later.) It was so nice out (still gloomy, but no longer raining and a very comfortable temperature), I wanted to explore some more. I headed for the Hotel de Ville next, walking along the Seine for maximum scenery. You can’t actually go inside, as it’s now a government building, but I love the Robert Doisneau photo, Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, and have always wanted to see the place for myself. Well, here it is:

The Hotel de Ville, minus the kissing people and from the other angle

More walking along the river was next, with no specific destination in mind. It was a lovely, if grey, day, and I was enjoying my wander. At this point, my feet weren’t hurting and I was marveling at how wonderful my Dr. Scholl’s shoes were. Not a blister in sight yet and I felt like I could walk for days. So off I went, enjoying the scenic views of the river despite the overcast skies. I had my first sighting of the Eiffel Tower (for this visit)…

...and a lovely view of the Ile de la Cité, the larger of the two islands in the middle of the river, where Notre Dame is located.I’ve always meant to check out the park at the point of the island, but never made it there. Something for the next trip!

It wasn't long before I was nearing the Louvre, somewhere I hadn't planned to go on this trip, as I've already been there twice. But it was there, and it didn't cost anything to see from the outside, so I figured why not? That little detour turned out to be one of the highlights of the day, so I’m glad I made it. The museum building is huge and beautiful, and I'm always happy to spend some time photographing it from every conceivable angle. Once I was done wandering around and aiming my camera everywhere, I headed for the park in front of it, the Jardin des Tuileries, to sit for a while and take in my surroundings. Along the way, I stopped to get a pastry and a water, and had myself an impromptu snack. And made some new friends.

One wing of the massive Louvre building, as seen from the Jardin des Tuileries

My new friends, who appeared about two milliseconds after the first crinkle of my pastry bag. The male had no fear whatsoever of people, so clearly this wasn't his first encounter with a snacking human. They were both cute, though, quacking and sidling up to me. I'm a sucker for animals, so I contributed to their delinquency by dropping a few scraps of croissant.

The other end of the park is the Place de la Concorde, the site of the guillotine during the French Revolution. Since I was practically there already, I headed that way, got some photos, wandered around a little, then set off for my last quest of the day: shopping. I wanted to get myself a scarf or two to wear during my stay, in the hopes that it would help me blend in more and look less like a tourist. But my choice in shopping locales that day left some to be desired: I went first to the two big department stores, Au Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. Designer department stores, with prices to match. Not even close to my budget. After much walking around (and now, aching feet), I found a little shop having a sale and picked up two for 5€ each. They were pretty and kept my neck warm all week, but I live in Florida, so I have no clue when I’ll ever wear them again. Very sad: I really loved the purple one.

The Place de la Concorde, shot on a later, sunnier day. The obelisk originally stood in front of Luxor Temple in Egypt.

This is Luxor Temple, taken on a previous vacation. So now I've seen the whole set, thousands of miles apart!

I’m a little ashamed to say my first full day in Paris ended with dinner at, of all places, McDonald’s. But in my defense, I’d been walking ALL day and my feet were aching (complete with blister). All I wanted to do was go “home” and rest, so I grabbed a burger and fries before jumping back on the Métro to return to my apartment. Sadly, this would become a theme at dinner time. A full week in the city and I never once sat down in a restaurant for a proper dinner. I was always too tired, so dinner would become a crepe or a baguette or, yet again, McDonald’s. I guess that’s one advantage to traveling with other people: they force me to eat a proper dinner. Left to my own devices, even at home, I don’t eat much.

Well, that's day one of my trip. My intention to combine a few days into one post seems to have failed. Rather than let this get way too long, I'll stop here and pick up where I left off tomorrow.